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How to Manage Presentation Anxiety

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As you watched the London Olympics, you may have wondered, "Why does one athlete reach her golden goal while another with equal talent falters?" Sports psychologists tell us the athlete who hauls in the hardware has learned to manage her anxiety.

Same with influential leaders and presenters.

After a decade of coaching executives, I've learned the key is to manage your anxiety, not try to control it. Managing and controlling are two different mindsets. If you manage your anxiety, you'll stay focused, which radically reduces your stress and improves the outcome. If you try to control it, you give the anxiety too much power. Trying to control your nerves while delivering a presentation makes you vulnerable because it robs you of focus and puts you in a victim state of mind. It allows self-doubt to creep in and sap your energy, therefore putting the outcome in jeopardy.

Think of your next presentation as a golden opportunity to influence. If you struggle with sweaty palms, a racing heart or brain freeze, how do you manage your anxiety when it matters most like A-list athletes and leaders?

Here are three quick tips:

1. Think P&L: Prepared & Loose. Did you notice how playful Usain Bolt was before he broke records? For most of us, a sudden swirl of feelings cultivates anxiety. Staying loose requires emotional regulation, especially if you're a perfectionist. If you want to boost your cognitive performance, simply tell yourself that you are fully prepared. And that being tense will work against you. Give yourself permission to create an almost playful state of mind. P & L: Playful and loose.

2. Opt-Out of Anxiety. Gabby Douglas of the U.S. women's gymnastics team did this prior to making history winning the all-around gold medal. She willed herself to opt-out of her anxiety. Later, when she faltered during her individual routines, she said the pressure of expectations got to her. Perhaps you gravitate towards pre-presentation anxiety. Maybe you do it because it's familiar ground. An anxious frame of mind may be unpleasant, but it's familiar. Maybe you think you should feel anxious. Ask yourself, "Is it possible I've become addicted to feeling anxious prior to presentations because that's the state I've always known?" Truth be told, maybe you'd feel like a slacker if you had a sense of calm. Please don't get high on anxiety. Opt out of anxiety and in to a calm state in order to shine in the spotlight.

3. Go the Extra Smile. Again, let's look at the Olympic gymnasts. There's a reason they flash those radiant smiles prior to their routines. They don't start with the now famous "McKayla is Not Impressed" facial position McKayla Maroney displayed when she disappointingly received her silver medal. A brand new research study from the University of Kansas says that smiling lowers your anxiety because it lowers your heart rate. According to the study, even a forced smile can reduce your stress level. So the next time you find yourself tense, check your face. Turn that grin upside down. Give a Gabby, not a McKayla. You'll close your energy gap and lower your anxiety.

In another post, you'll discover why all smiles are not created equal. I'll share something I've taught my executive clients for years. I call it "The Magic Move.®" According to the Kansas study, this particular facial position gives you a tremendous edge because it dramatically lowers your stress. Even better, my research shows that "The Magic Move®" triggers the top response from others. And that is the truest metric of your influence.